- José Inéz Herrera, American
José Inez Herrera, Death Cart, 1890-1910. Wood, leather, hair, feather, metal, silk; 48 × 21½ in. General acquisition funds, 1948.22A-C.
Spanish settlers introduced death statues, a sculptural tradition dating from the Middle Ages, to the Southwest in the late 1500s. They were used by the Penitente brotherhoods of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado in Easter processions in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The processions occurred during Holy Week and were known for the practice of mortification of the flesh, primarily through self-flagellation, for religious purposes. The cart was used in the Good Friday re-enactment of the Passion of Christ and was meant to remind sinners to be prepared, because death was ever-present.
In New Mexico and Colorado, the figures are usually dressed as a woman carrying a bow and arrow, known as Doña Sebastiana, probably in reference to Saint Sebastian, who was martyred by arrows. The master carver who made this cart, José Inés Herrera, was active in El Rito, New Mexico. He was known as the Santero de la Muerte (Saint-maker of Death) because he specialized in carving death carts and death figures.
Jorge F. Rivas Pérez, Frederick and Jan Mayer Curator of Latin American Art